Online editor in China detained for reposting

New York, March 5, 2012–A Web editor in the southern Chinese city of Foshan was jailed for 10 days after reposting an unconfirmed report that two local officials had been caught with prostitutes, according to Chinese and international news reports.

Shang Laicheng, an editor at Tiantian Xin news forum, was detained by Foshan police after leaving work on February 17, according to Southern Metropolis Daily. His family was informed that he had been formally detained in a Chancheng district detention center for spreading false information.

According to news reports, the accusation was based on information Shang had reposted, saying city police had caught two local prosecutors using the services of prostitutes at a sauna, but that “the two were driving around and strolling the streets the next day,” according to a translation by U.S.-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia. The post did not name the prosecutors.

The Foshan Procuratorate office said on its official microblog that the information in the post was fabricated and had damaged the reputations of authorities, according to news reports. It is unclear who wrote the original post.

“This heavy-handed treatment is clearly intended to quell open discussion on the Internet,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “If public officials contest the accuracy of a posting, they should use recourses that do not include imprisonment.”

In a press conference on February 28, Shang said he had not intended to spread misinformation, and that he was seeking official compensation and a review of the case, according to news reports.

A colleague at Tiantian Xin told Radio Free Asia that Shang had been placed on leave, and that he remains under police investigation.

Netizens and journalists raised questions about Shang’s arrest. Guangzhou-based newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily quoted a legal scholar who defended Shang’s rights, saying that the Chinese constitution gives citizens the right to supervise the government. If the post was untrue, then authorities should produce information to prove it, the legal scholar said.